A Shout In The Dark

Disrespect Towards HHS Drama Club Reveal Underlying Issues Within School Culture


Andrew Mariner

Full Cast of Shuddersome Perfoming

Addy Stupin, Matt Dwyer, and Rose Flynn

February 26th: the Friday before the Hingham High School Drama Club participated in the first round of Festival, a state-wide event hosted by the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild (METG). On this day, in preparation for the intense competition, which the Drama Club had vigorously been preparing for months in advance, a school-wide performance was put on through two assemblies. This would give the club a chance to showcase their hard work to the school community, and gauge reactions from a live audience.

The show, which Ms. Levy-Sisk, the adviser of Drama Club and director of the show, had chosen was a selection of scenes from “The Shuddersome Tales of Poe,” an adaption of several of Edgar Allen Poe’s well-known works including The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven. Actors memorized sizeable pieces of tongue-twisting and dramatic dialogue, and worked together as an ensemble in synchronized movements. Costumes and makeup crews worked to create elaborate costumes in the style of “steampunk,” and those involved with set design worked hard to perfect the eerie and stirring set. The backstage crew worked so that the show would go on without a hitch, while sound and lighting crew committed to creating an atmosphere on set that would complement the show’s content. A number of teachers, including fine arts teacher Mr. Doherty, and industrial technology teacher Mr. Faherty, also gave time to the project. Overall, this show was a collaborative effort, and possible due to the extreme hard work and determination of numerous individuals.

While the first assembly was unproblematic, a small portion of those who attended the second exhibited highly inappropriate and offensive behavior. Obnoxious shouts echoed from students across the auditorium when the house lights were turned off. Throughout the show, demeaning, crude, and sexual comments were shouted at the performing students ridiculing their clothing and interests.

Freshman Edan Larkin, who was seated directly in front of the group shouting obscenities, described the language as, “sexual, derogatory,” and “homophobic.” Edan also noted that the obscenities were targeted, for the most part, at one actress. Laughs were also audible over the course of the performance. Edan said that few teachers and administrators attempted to stop the troublemakers. Although only a minority of the students at the assembly acted this way, it was very damaging and reflective of possible larger trends at our school.

In an interview with The Harborlight, Assistant Principal Mrs. Henriksen addressed these trends. After the Dance Team incident this fall, she described a “greater understanding among the school community of a cultural problem.” She believes that people are not necessarily targeting dance or drama: incidents such as these stem from a greater prejudice. She also offered an explanation to the lack of immediate teacher intervention during the assembly, saying “voices [were] projected towards the stage in the assembly, and teachers and faculty could not hear.” The administration, due to this, did not comprehend the magnitude of the comments until Friday afternoon.

Mrs. Henriksen described the faculty’s reaction as “shocked and appalled.” She continued to explain in detail what has been done since to solve the problem. Principal Dr. Girouard-McCann had an hour and a half discussion with the Drama Club to assess the situation. Additionally, an “emergency faculty meeting” was called where teachers deliberated over what this meant in terms of our school climate.

The gendered and sexually charged comments reflect a misogynistic attitude that is, unfortunately, prevalent throughout our society. Senior Lulu Wiley touched on this issue in her song “Netflix and Chill Culture,” which she wrote in response to the actions of those at the second assembly. Although this incident clearly mirrors the issue with the Dance Team during the fall, when students yelled disparaging and suggestive comments at female dancers, some seem to think there isn’t necessarily an underlying issue with sexism exemplified by these occurrences. This is a bizarre claim since, in both instances, the comments were undeniably sexist and misogynist.

Junior Matt Rice, a cast member of “Shuddersome,” argues that this event and the incident with the Dance Team reflect the hypermasculinity in today’s culture. “Based on what happened to the Drama Club, when you take into consideration the Dance Team and other small, isolated incidents, I think you’re able to see the big picture: the very big masculine, sexist society that we live in.” Our school is a product of a society that still teaches boys that it’s good to assert themselves over girls; it’s ‘manly’. Those lessons are reflected in these incidents, both in which male students harassed female students-these incidents of sexism.

This incident has also brought up conversation about Hingham High School’s treatment of the arts program in relation to the sports program. It seems to many at our school that sports are prioritized over the arts. Some pointed to the quicker reaction to, and more severe crackdown, on the direct perpetrators of the Dance Team incident, as proof.

Others mentioned that members of more traditional and male-dominated sports teams like hockey, lacrosse, or basketball among others, are typically given more respect than those involved in the arts. They would never be subject to the treatment that the Drama Club faced. For the Drama Club, Festival is their playoff game, and they deserve the same support and respect that is provided to Hingham High’s sports teams.

Ms. Levy-Sisk kindly agreed to an interview with The Harborlight. We asked her if she believes the incident during the second assembly was an isolated incident, or if she thought it was a product of our school’s culture. “Sadly, I definitely think it points to a bigger problem,” she replied. When asked if the school focuses too much on sports and not enough on drama or other arts communities, and if that is a part of the problem, she answered, “I do think it’s part of the problem, but I’d hate it to be looked at as an ‘us versus them’ kind of thing. I think it’s a lack of respect to whoever the ‘we’ is.” She makes a great point, when blame is put on one group as opposed to another, sometimes the underlying issue is forgotten. Respect is being thrown out the window, and that is the matter at hand.

Others also cited an “old boy” culture prevalent among many Hinghamites in which status and money are associated with relevance as a catalyst of this event. Due to their wealth and town roots, some Hingham residents may think themselves better than others, an attitude which extends to their children. A belief in this cultural attitude could breed a lack of respect and arrogance, leading to events such as the one that occurred at the second assembly on February 26th.

However, action has been taken by the administration to resolve the issue stemming from this incident and remedy their previous lack of response. “Behavior unaddressed becomes the norm,” Mrs. Henriksen said, expressing a concern that one class after another could pick up this behavior until, “that’s the way Hingham High is.”

One measure has been taken already: the class-by-class assigned seating at last week’s Stu-Co assembly. The goal of this, said Mrs. Henriksen, was “to split up the mob mentality, and keep teachers closer to the students they know are likely to cause trouble.” Additionally, students and teachers are working together on organizing a task force to initiate overall culture change, and a group of concerned parents has already met to discuss school climate change.  

People are wondering, however, if these actions taken are enough. The Harborlight asked Ms. Levy-Sisk, the Drama director and adviser,  if the practice of assigned seating at future assemblies was enough and if there should be more of a focus on the perpetrators themselves or the school as a whole. “Enough? No. But nobody thinks it’s enough; it’s a start,” she replied. “That’s all that is.  It’s not meant to be a fix.”

It is, hopefully, a start. A recent Student Council assembly passed without incident. However, this could be because there is more attention and respect given towards this group, when compared with other school clubs. When asked the same question, sophomore Megan Prescott, the actress who received much of the catcalls and harassment, said, “Sadly not, I don’t think there is enough being done. I understand that it’s a difficult situation to fix, but just having meetings about it isn’t going to change how the student population treat their peers. This isn’t just how those boys treated me, the dance team also experienced this kind of disrespect.” Megan reinforces Ms. Sisk’s remark that it’s a larger issue. It’s a matter of respect, and a sign that we need to completely change our attitudes, not  just switch around our seats.

So what do we do then? How does our school move on from this? How can we as a school change our attitudes-our entire culture even? We have to acknowledge that what happened was wrong. “There’s an awful lot of people who don’t think that anything that was said was wrong,” Ms. Sisk reflects. “We have a problem if people don’t think it was a problem.”

The Harborlight agrees that our school community must address that there is an issue at Hingham High; we can’t accept the idea of anyone yelling ‘cunt’ and ‘fag’ to other students as just an example of “boys being boys.” It is a symptom of a bigger problem. We also must help people understand that, if they find these words offensive in print, they must realize how upsetting it was to have the worlds hurled at you during a performance, in front of your peers. This itself should incite people to action. “We have to decide, as a community, if we are going to continue to let this happen,” says Matt Rice.

Once the school can agree that something wrong happened February 26th, then we can move on. Hopefully, we can work towards a future of more mutual respect and equal appreciation for every community at this school. As Megan Prescott effectively states, “Mending this relationship between students will take time, but it is possible if people are willing.”